MANILA, Philippines -- Meralco veteran Allein Maliksi was full of praise for Nards Pinto after the guard played the game of his life just when the Bolts needed it most.
Meralco was on the brink of elimination in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup semifinals, after the Magnolia Hotshots took a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.
But Pinto helped ensure that they will remain in the fight, as he netted a career-best 24 points on top of five assists in their 102-98 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon.
Maliksi revealed afterward that he had challenged Pinto to step up for the Bolts, especially as he, Chris Newsome, and Bong Quinto -- Meralco's primary playmakers -- were often well-defended by the Hotshots.
"Lagi kong kinakausap si Nards eh. Sabi ko, 'Nards, kailangan mong maging aggressive eh. Kasi naka-stay home sa akin, and hindi puwedeng si New or si Bong lang ang magke-create for others eh,'" Maliksi said.
"'Kailangan mag-step up ka this game, kasi ano na namin 'to eh, do or die na eh'," he added.
Pinto answered the veteran's call, scoring 20 points by the third quarter to help Meralco stay in the game. It was Maliksi who finished off what Pinto started, as he scored nine of his 29 points in the final frame -- including two clutch three-pointers -- to push the Bolts to victory.
Pinto finished the game making nine of his 17 field goals in the game. He also had two rebounds and a steal, and made three of his eight attempts from beyond the arc.
Meralco needed every single one of their points, as Newsome fouled out with 7:10 to go after scoring 23 points, and Quinto was limited to three points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field.
"Proud ako kay Nards na ang ganda ng nilaro niya today," said Maliksi, whose 29 points were his career-best for Meralco.
Head coach Norman Black praised Maliksi and Pinto for delivering in a must-win situation, especially as he played them extended minutes. Maliksi was on the floor for 37 minutes and Pinto for nearly 39.
"We needed them to deliver, which they did," the coach said. "I thought Allein did a great job of hitting his outside shots and opening up their defense, and Nards did the same thing."
The Bolts will try to force a deciding Game 7 when they play Magnolia again on Friday, still at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.